Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Analysis of Major Characters
Harry Potter is the hero of the story. Orphaned as a baby, he is brought up by his aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, maltreated by them, and tormented by their obnoxious son, Dudley. Neglected and disdained, Harry grows up to be a timid boy unsure of his abilities. His sudden fame as a wizard at Hogwarts comes not just as a total contrast to his earlier forgotten misery, but as a fate that we feel is very much deserved after his youthful suffering. Yet even after he becomes famous, Harry never loses his modesty and humility. Even by the end of the story, when he has obtained the Sorcerer’s Stone and saved Hogwarts (and perhaps the whole world) from Voldemort, Harry does not revel in his success. He simply asks Dumbledore a few factual questions and is satisfied with the answers, never expecting any praise. Moreover, he does not wish to use his powers to fulfill grandiose wishes. Dumbledore wisely knows that, unlike Voldemort, Harry will desire only to get the magic stone, not to use it. He does not covet riches or power, or harbor any secret wild ambition; he just wants to make sure that the stone and its power do not fall into the wrong hands. The simplicity of his desire is part of what makes him a hero.
Harry’s capacity for loyal friendship is another of his attractive features. It is also one of the surest proofs that Harry is developing at Hogwarts, where he is a lonely individual at the story’s beginning but has a circle of loyal friends and admirers by the end. His faithful membership in Gryffindor is a symbol of his newly developing team spirit. He prefers maintaining good relations with his schoolmates to basking in individual glory. Similarly, rather than boast of his immense talent at Quidditch, he rejoices in the communal victory for his house and does not stop for applause even when he breaks Quidditch records. He is willing to put himself at risk for the sake of a friend, sometimes foolishly, as when he battles a troll to save Hermione and when he gets himself severely punished for helping Hagrid with his dragon. Harry’s success at forging true friendships and overcoming his early loneliness is almost as inspiring as his defeat of the evil and powerful Voldemort.
The son of a long line of wizards, Malfoy is the opposite of Harry in his familiarity with the Hogwarts experience, his sense of entitlement, his snobbery, and his generally unpleasant character. Rowling includes Malfoy in the story partly as a foil to Harry’s character; in seeing how unlikable Malfoy is, we appreciate all the more Harry’s kindness and generosity of spirit. For example, right after Malfoy insults Ron’s poverty on the train ride to Hogwarts, Harry buys double the number of pastries that he needs and shares them with Ron. Malfoy’s snobbish insistence on only socializing with children of the best families, his selfishness, and his overwhelming aura of superiority all resemble similar characteristics in Dudley Dursley, Harry’s nemesis in the Muggle world. The similarity between Malfoy and Dudley is important in reminding us that Harry’s new life will not be an escape from his old problems. Malfoy’s presence throughout the preparatory stages of Harry’s educational adventure is a rude awakening to the realities of the wizards’ world, which includes detestable characters like Malfoy. At Hogwarts, Harry will not be surrounded simply by kindness, but will have to face unpleasantness as well, just as he has earlier in his life.
But Malfoy also plays a somewhat deeper role in the story, at least symbolically. He is mean-spirited and nasty, but there are hints that in time he may become far worse than nasty; he may blossom into a truly evil character like Voldemort. The Latin word draco means “dragon,” and the French words mal and foi mean “bad faith.” We sometimes suspect that Draco Malfoy may indeed be a “bad faith dragon,” a monster of ill will. Perhaps he is a dragon still being incubated, like Hagrid’s baby dragon that will soon grow into a destructive monster. Malfoy belongs to the darkly powerful house of Slytherin, as did Voldemort. His total lack of redeeming features makes him almost as flat a villain as Voldemort. Like Voldemort, Malfoy is not so much a realistic character as a caricature of badness. Of course, we do not know what Malfoy will become in the future. But his presence at Hogwarts reminds us that every generation will have its heroes and its villains, and that the struggle between right and wrong will always continue.
Hermione’s character develops significantly over the course of the story and sheds light on Harry’s character as well. At the outset, she is an annoying perfectionist, a goody-two-shoes who has read all the books for her classes in advance, has learned all about Hogwarts, and never breaks the rules. When she first speaks to Harry on the train ride to school, she is eager to impress him with her knowledge, whereas Harry only wants to make friends. Her intellectual talents are indeed worthy of pride, as we find out later when she scores 112 percent on her final exam. But we sense that her show-off side is a defense against her feelings of inferiority, because she comes from a Muggle family and, like Harry, is unfamiliar with the wizard world. In both Hermione and Harry we see that learning wizardry requires a great deal of social adjustment and self-confidence.
Hermione’s development into a likable character and a friend begins in the troll episode, when Harry and Ron are reprimanded for trying to save her from the monster and she coolly delivers a bold-faced lie to the teacher. The little girl who has been abiding by all the school rules now dares to lie to her superiors, and a new friendship is born. Hermione’s decision to support her friends rather than obey the rules showcases what is perhaps truly valuable about Harry’s Hogwarts experience. The school teaches him not just facts from books and how to follow procedures, but also—and perhaps more important—loyalty, compassion for others, and solidarity.